I was massively excited when I received the Stratosphere. I had read that it was lightweight, easy to use and it looked cool. This is what I discovered.
When I first tore open the parcel I thought I must have been sent the wrong item. It felt far too light! When packed, the Stratosphere is the same size as an issue 3/4 length issue sleeping mat when it is rolled into its bag, hardly any bigger than an issue bivi bag, though you due to the poles it needs to be packed with a little more care. It weighs a kilo, the same as an issue water bottle.
I had my hand in plaster when I first received it, but was so excited about the Stratosphere I thought I would have a go at putting it up anyway. With no instructions (men dont read them ever!) and just one hand, it took me about five minutes to erect. It is ridiculously simple. Just peg out the bivi (with the supplied lightweight pegs) unfold the poles, feed them through the sleeves and secure the tips in the holes and that is it!
Once inside you will experience the tardis effect. I felt no sense of claustrophobia. The bivi lies along the body from about the waist downwards. There is enough space for writing a patrol report, cleaning a weapon (maybe not a GPMG or .50 Cal though) and other admin. The bivi was long enough for me (61) with enough room to spare for a little kit, though unless you are 50 you will not be able to get your bergan, osprey etc inside.
Other than those already mentioned, there are a few other features worth mentioning. There is a permanent mosquito net at the head end with an external rain flap, which keeps the rain out. The flap is kept taught using a guy rope which must be pegged out. You can role the flap up which enables you to see out the top, though this can only be done from the outside. Similarly, there is another net at the hooped end which faces your feet. This is great for added ventilation, if required, but as I discovered you will get wet if it rains! Unfortunately, this net would benefit from a design adjustment. You have to undo the zip then close the gap with the net. If you were somewhere with a lot of insects, midges etc you would get destroyed in the 20 seconds this takes! The entry/exit zip is on the right hand side (as you are lying down) and is ¾ length and is easier to operate from the inside than the outside. All the seams are taped, though due to the zip, if you were in a puddle the water would find a way in somewhat quicker than in an issue bivi bag (which has no zip).
Actually, I think it is fairly tough. I know that when I pay for something myself it gets looked after a little better than when it is issued. If you were stumbling around in a traditional harbour and fell on the poles there would be an unhappy ending. It would take some creativity to use the Stratosphere effectively with out the poles and you would probably have to cut a hole in the pole sleeves to do so. I am sure an intelligent REME/RE soldier would find a better solution, but I couldnt! Despite the thin, lightweight groundsheet material I havent yet had a puncture. It would be easier to rip than a poncho and would require some care.
Very, very light! Stands up well to shtty Welsh weather! Packs down well! Easy to use! At 98 quid good value for money! Ideal for OPs, could be erected inside! Great shelter in high wind/rain!
The pegs that are supplied, though lightweight, are shiny, noisy and metal. Sturdy plastic ones would be better. Also there are no spares! Not easy to get out of in a hurry (aka on a course when you get IDFd or the Maliban infiltrates your perimeter).
Knowing what I know now would I buy this product? YES
Competitors: Snugpak Ionosphere £108 (1050 grams), Terra Nova Jupiter £270 (840 grams)